BOSTON — Some first-time drunk driving offenders would be required to get an ignition interlock device installed in their cars under a provision tucked into the state budget.
Sen. Bruce Tarr's proposal is hooked onto the $46.2 billion spending package hammered out by House and Senate negotiators, a final version of which was expected to be sent Friday to Gov. Charlie Baker for consideration.
"This is something I’ve been working to achieve for years because I’m firmly convinced of its ability to save lives," said Tarr, a Gloucester Republican and the Senate minority leader. "It’s a proven way to save lives and prevent tragedy on our roadways."
Massachusetts now requires the devices for repeat offenders but is the only state that doesn't require ignition interlocks for first-time offenders.
Tarr's proposal would require the devices for first-time offenders whose blood alcohol content at the time of arrest is .15% or more. Drivers are considered impaired with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more.
Tarr said research from other states show the devices substantially reduce drunken driving cases.
"We’re talking about making sure that first-time offenders don’t have the opportunity to drive drunk a second time and put lives at risk," he said.
An ignition interlock is similar to a Breathalyzer used by police, but the device is connected to a vehicle's ignition system. A driver must blow into a tube on the device, which checks for the presence of alcohol, before starting the vehicle.
If the device detects alcohol, the vehicle won't start.
In Massachusetts, courts require the devices for offenders convicted of a second drunken driving offense. Offenders must pay to install the devices, as well as a leasing charge that can run more than $80 per month.
Similar proposals have passed the Senate in recent years, usually to stall in the House.
The measure is likely to be supported by Gov. Baker, who included a similar proposal to tighten penalties for first-time DUI in a roadway safety bill he filed last year. That bill has languished in a legislative committee.
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, which lobbies for tougher drunken driving laws, support's Tarr's proposal.
Mary Kate DePamphilis, the group's New England director, said requiring the devices for all DUI offenses will "allow convicted drunk drivers to learn how to drive sober and be part of society while taking drunk drivers off the road."
Massachusetts’ drunken driving penalties are already considered strict.
In 2005, lawmakers passed Melanie's Law, billed as the toughest in the nation, setting mandatory sentences for drunken drivers and requiring new penalties such as vehicle ignition locks for repeat offenders.
The law was named after Melanie Powell, a 13-year-old Marshfield girl killed in 2003 by a woman who had been driving drunk despite a previous offense.
Even with its tough laws, the state has seen an uptick in fatal crashes involving drunken drivers.
"Drunk driving is responsible for roughly a third of all roadway fatalities across the nation," said Mary Maguire, AAA's spokeswoman for the Northeast, which also support's Tarr' proposal. "It's remains a potent killer, and that's why requiring interlock devices for all offenders is so critically important."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Eagle-Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.